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Game Day Preview: Canada vs Russia

On Saturday night, Team Canada improved to 3-0 at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship with a 5-1 win over the Czech Republic.

After smoking the Danes and just scraping past the Swiss, they delivered what many are calling their most complete effort of the tournament against the Czechs. The game was tied at one about halfway through the first period before Canada found a way to rattle off a pair of goals (B. Leason, A. Lafreniere) before the opening frame ended.

They would add two more (M. Frost, M. Entwistle) before the end of the game and walked away with a 5-1 win.

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There were a few tense moments and the Czechs did have some chances when the game was still up for grabs, but Mikey DiPietro was rock solid when he needed to be. He made 23 saves in the win. Head Coach Tim Hunter came out the other day and said that he was going to be very secretive moving forward when it comes to his line combos and starting goalies so I don’t think we’ll find out Canada’s starting goalie until pre-game warmups. Given the fact he got the win against the Czechs and given how high Hockey Canada is on the young goalie, I would say it’s safe to expect DiPietro will start tonight.

Canada’s opposition has been gradually getting more and more difficult. They passed the first three tests and tonight, things really ramp up as they take on Russia. A loss could leave them with a tough matchup in the quarterfinals. A win will give them a ton of momentum heading into the medal round and likely an easier matchup in the quarters.

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CANADIANS TO WATCH

Evan Bouchard is eating minutes and running the powerplay, which is exactly what we expected from him. He hasn’t blown the doors off of things early on here, but tonight is his chance to make a huge impact against a Russian team that has a very potent offense.

They’re down to four right shots on their blueline and 2 left-handed shots with the suspension of Jared McIsaac, who played more minutes than any other defender in the game against the Czech Republic. It will be interesting to see how Tim Hunter adjusts his game plan with McIsaac out.

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Up front, I have been pleasantly surprised by the play of some of Canada’s support players. Morgan Frost is tied for the tournament lead in points while Mackenzie Entwistle and Brett Leason are sitting at a goal per game right now.

We knew that guys like Maxime Comtois, Nick Suzuki, and Cody Glass would be impact players, but it’s been encouraging to see players lower in the lineup step up and give this team a very strong source of secondary offence. I’ll be watching to see if Frost, Entwistle, Leason, and even Jack Studnicka can continue to chip in as the pressure intensifies and the opposition gets stronger.

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THE OPPOSITION

On the surface, it would appear that the Russians slid right past the Swiss, beating them 7-4, but that score does not reflect how close the game was. Things were even at three goals apiece when Switzerland was gifted two penalty shots on the same play, which is mind-boggling in itself. There was a real chance for the Swiss to go up 5-3, but they missed on both and Russia scored three in the third period to win the game.

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This Russian squad has tons of offensive firepower. Look at names like Vitali Kravtsov, Pavel Shen, and Klim Kostin among others. This forward group has the ability to blow a game wide open.

With that being said, I heard Bob McKenzie describe them as a very erratic group. If things go well, they could shoot the lights out against Canada but if things start to slip away this could just as easily end in a blowout win for the host country.

On the back end, watch for Oilers prospect Dmitry Samorukov. He was picked 84th overall by Edmonton in 2017 and has been playing some good hockey to start this tournament. He has been logging heavy minutes (over 20 minutes against the Swiss), has two points in three games, and a +5 rating to go with it.

Alexander Alexeyev has been a standout player for Red Deer in the WHL this year and the defenseman has four points to start this year’s tournament. He’s probably their most talented blueliner.

Russia feels unpredictable to me, so I honestly feel like this game could go either way.

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WHERE TO WATCH: You can catch this one on TSN1 with puck drop going just after 6 pm mountain time.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: I was really close last game as I predicted a 5-2 win. Tonight, I think Canada will find a way to beat Russia and keep their undefeated record. I think their powerplay will get a goal as well.

NOT SO OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Special players rise to the occasion when they’re challenged. I think Alexis Lafreniere finds a way to pot another one tonight.